A closer look at creating tonal value sketches

Tonal Value

Probably the two most important factors in producing tonal value sketches are varied pencil pressure and economy of stroke. You 're not aiming for any great detail, just for the overall pattern, and tonal value contrasts.

Being able to produce tonal value sketches in a professional way is almost an art in itself, and can be a joy for others to behold. You are able to concentrate on the problem in hand without distraction, producing a strong pattern with a wide range of tonal values. However, there is a strange reluctance by amateur artists to produce these sketches. They rush to do them quickly without much thought, eager to get on with the finished painting itself. As a teacher, I've often asked students to show me the preliminary tonal value sketch, only to be looked straight in the eye and told it has blown away!

The ability to achieve good, sound pencil technique for these sketches is actually gained very quickly once you get down to it, and the effort is enormously worthwhile.

While the drawings on the next few pages are done with pencil and graphite sticks, you can of

Carefully analyze this drawing and notice how much counterchange there is. The darkest darks have been achieved by putting maximum weight on the pencil. You '11 see that these darks are often placed next to untouched white paper, which of course give the lightest lights. This drawing is mostly composed of areas of tonal value rather than outlines around everything, which I call "wire"! Try to quickly copy this drawing to achieve the simplicity and strength of the original.

Tonal Values Drawing

Holiday Atmoshpere, St. Malo, 33A x 4Vi" (10 x 12cm)

A tonal value sketch should give a vivid impression of how the final painting will appear. Correctly done, it will solve most of your problems before you start painting. Look at the figures in the foreground, and see how simply they have been indicated in the sketch with a few swift strokes of the pencil.

Sketches WatercolourPencil Tonal SketchSimple Tonal Drawings

Street Musician, Carcassone, 10 x 14" (25 x 36cm)

This scene is about design, using strong shapes. Light and shade are very important here, but see how these have been worked out beforehand in the sketch. The painting is very evocative of the area. The musician and the lighting give an almost operatic atmosphere to the scene.

coursc use other materials such as gray and black chalks or sticks of charcoal. For these sketches you need a 9 x 12" bond paper pad, or what is known as a layout pad — don't use watercolor paper for sketches, it doesn't work. These papers have enough tooth to make dark lines, yet they are smooth enough to be able to lay large gray values with the side of your pencil or graphite stick. I always find soft 4B or 6B grades are best, because they allow for finger rubbing, which gives a certain subtleness and can't be achieved by just putting pencil to paper.

You'll also need a spray fixative to prevent smudging, especially if you are using charcoal or chalk.

Charcoal sticks can be very sensitive in use. Hold them very delicately when using the ends, but when you use die sides, put more pressure on and you can get instant darks.

Minori Watercolour

The Blue Boat, Minori, Amalfi Coast, 11 x 14" (28 x 36cm)

One of the first things I noticed about the preliminary sketch is how much has been achieved using strong darks and the merest flick of a pencil — yet everything that is essential to the final painting is here. When you begin the actual painting it's important to know exactly where you will need to leave the white paper untouched. Knowing this will give you more confidence.

Preliminary Airplane Sketch

Evening in Carlton, Melbourne,

In the preliminary sketch on the right take particular note of the different techniques that David has used. There's a delicacy of line in the treatment of the trees, but there's a strong staccato way of using the pencil to indicate the cars. The whole sketch has been drawn with enormous restraint and economy, and yet it portrays the areas of light and shade needed for the finished painting.

Painting With Light And ShadeSpace Suit Diagram

Charcoal and chalk can be a little messy but they also produce very rapid results. There are no fixed methods for the production of these sketches, it's best to experiment to find what suits you best.

Don't worn' about keeping your drawing too neat and tidy, this is a working diagram, not a finished work of art, and you can change anything as you go. Compose and change until you feel you've got the very best, most exciting design possible — then, and only then, get your paints out.

Space Suit Diagram

Basilica Bernardo Square, 8 x 10" (20 x 25cm)

Here light and shade has been used in a very dramatic way to portray this evening scene. Again all the values have been worked out in the preliminary sketch, with varying weights on the pencil. Much of the work has been put in with the side of the pencil — don't be afraid to try this, it will help you to avoid putting in too much fiddly detail. Acquiring these skills will eventually give you much pleasure. The added bonus is that you can make sketches in a busy street without attracting too much attention.

Busy Street SketchesTarentaal Images
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The Still and Quiet of Morning, Weymouth,

The importance of light and shade in a painting is perfectly expressed here. David has beautifully captured the sunlight on the foreground water, which is further enhanced by the strong reflections beneath the foreground boats. This is also an excellent example of using contrast to emphasize the lingering mist. The strong foreground contrasts with the high key buildings in the distance, while the color of the foreground water suggests the creamy sky above the mist.

Solitude, Tarentaal, 11 x 15" (28 x 38cm)

The line of light, counterchanged against the strong darks of the trees on the left, emphasizes even more the softness of the distance on the right. The reflections in the water have been handled beautifully, and with great restraint. The sharpness of the white roof gives impact to the scene, while the whole painting evokes the delicacy of a misty morning.

St. Peter Port, Guernsey, 11 x 15" (28 x 38cm)

At first glance, one gets an impression of an almost monochromatic painting, but it's really all about the subtle use of color and tone. Look carefully and you '11 see yellows, mauves, browns and blues, all used with masterly sensitivity. The distant part of the town on the left has been merely hinted at, giving a misty quality, which contrasts well with the strong harbor wall.

sing light and shade to create a misty atmosphere

Misty Watercolour
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